In order to raise the students’ awareness of the relevance and importance of archaeology to the modern world in my course on Christian and Muslim archaeology, I pointed out to them, as I always do, the different quarters of Lower Haifa – the section of the city where much of the Israeli-Arab population resides. We strolled along the shabby Jaffa Street with its historical Ottoman (from the early 20th century) and Christian’s remains until we reached its eastern reconstructed part with Jewish buildings from the 1930s. I further showed them the eastern Muslim quarter to be soon abolished and replaced by high-rises, as well as a few selected reconstructed houses from the Ottoman period used as hotels or office buildings.
Before raising a few questions, I also drew attention to the annual multi-ethnic cultural events called “the Holiday of Holidays. This symbolic action organized by the municipality and taking place in the densely populated and segregated Arab quarter in Lower Haifa has contributed in part to upgrading the city’s status and boosting its economy. Recently, the multi-ethnic demographic character of Haifa (90% Jews: 10% Arab), has also been mentioned in a letter sent to president Obama by the mayor of Haifa inviting him to visit the city and witness the “over 100 years of ongoing dialogue” between its Arab and Jewish citizens.
I, then, asked the students to express their opinions on the following questions:
1-Is the selective reconstruction by the municipality, which puts emphasis on the past of the dominant majority (Jews) and obliterates extensive parts of the past of the minority (Arabs), in the name of modernization and gentrification processes reasonable?
2 – Who should be the main beneficiary of the cultural events taking place in the segregated quarter inhabited solely by Arab citizens – the locals whose poor conditions of living should be ameliorated by the municipality, or the dominant Jewish majority which resides in other parts of the city and appropriates the Palestinian heritage without acknowledging it?
Most of the students who participated in the debate that followed my questions were in favor of the gentrification processes and modernization of downtown Haifa. They thus consented to the municipality’s partial preservation of the Palestinian past. Only two students considered also the welfare of the Arab citizens who resided in Lower Haifa.
I was surprised by the student responses. Not only does the majority of my class consist of students who belong to the minority community but from my acquaintance with other young Arabs I was expecting a different, more militant, reaction. I concluded that either the students felt uninterested to express their opinions in an Israeli academic institute with both Jews and Arabs participating in the class, or that I had failed to point out that both gentrification that neglected the urban infrastructure of parts of Lower Haifa and redevelopment efforts in other parts were selective and clearly differentiate between Arab and Jewish groups, in spite of some symbolic actions of the municipality toward the former.